Tuesday, August 30, 2011

August Senior Championship: What's the Rush?

It took a couple of weekends to do it, but we qualified at the last minute for tonight's National League of Poker monthly Senior championship. And for a change of pace, we will break down every hand we played in the tournament!

:02 IN: BLINDS: 15/30


We have the button as dealer, in the second hand of the night. We folded the first one as small blind when a player went all-in for 1,000. He wound up holding A-Q, and split a pot of more than 3,000. Now this stereotypical online pusher goes all-in again, ahead of us!

We wonder for a moment what's going on -- then conclude he can't possibly have something huge two hands in a row. This must be a "reputation" bluff. So we choose to call, putting us all-in right off the bat. Everyone else folds.

Only one problem: our opponent isn't bluffing. He shows A-K.

ON THE FLOP: 10c-10s-8s

We want a queen! A lovely queen!


Far, far away -- but now with three spades showing, we have a chance to hit a nut flush on the river. (Our opponent has no spades at all.)


We miss. We're out. We write, "Sigh......" then "very good."

Be honest now -- would you have folded what we had, in that position? We didn't. And as a result, we finish #1,027 out of 1,047 players. That hurts.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Have You Quit Yet?

We mentioned a man at Thursday night's poker tournament whose unofficial motto was: "I give up, and then I win."

He may have meant it as a joke, but the idea is a good one. How can we say that? Because....

For whoever wants to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for me shall find it. - Matthew 16:25

This is one of those quotes from Jesus which can puzzle a lot of people. The idea is to realize there's more to life than, well, this life. Jesus put it another way:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. - Matthew 6:19-20

You can win every bracelet at next year's World Series of Poker, amass billions of chips and dollars -- but when you die, those things will be worthless in "the grave, where you are going" (Ecclesiastes 9:10). It's better to give up any pursuits in this life which come between you and Christ. That's because a right relationship with Christ will lead to eternal life.

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which me must be saved. - Acts 4:12

We heard a sermon this weekend which mentioned anything which takes your time and attention away from God is an idol. If poker is that way for you, maybe it's time to make something else the top priority in your life -- or better put, Someone.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Poker Night 267: The Guidance Counselors

"You never win by chasing," a man to our left said tonight at Lil Kim's Cove. Several other players agreed with him, to a point.

"If you don't get it on the turn, it's not worth going to the river," another said -- probably referring to a chase for a straight or a flush.

We listened to the discussion, not saying a thing. But when we were moved to another table with higher blinds, their words suddenly became our reality.

BLINDS: 500/1,000

IN THE POCKET: A-9 of clubs

Only five players are at the table, as the field narrows. We won a moderate-sized early pot, but lost 3,000 a few hands before this one when K-Q didn't pair on the flop. A-J came, but we refused to call a big bet with a straight draw. So we start this hand with 4,500 chips -- and while it's tempting to push right now, we choose to limp in. No one raises.

ON THE FLOP: 3c-3s-6c

There's "nut flush" potential here, and the play checks to us. We check -- but then the man next in line bets 2,000. One player calls. We make a bet which costs more than half our remaining chips, by calling. It would be nice if a club came right now....


....Except it didn't. We check again, and the man to our left spreads out 4,000. The man in between calls again -- and now it's decision time.

"You know how to drive a hard bargain, don't you?" we say as we ponder an all-in moment. We might win the pot with an Ace on the river. We probably would if a club comes out. But we've made it a point all evening to play on the tight side -- and in the back of our mind, we recall what those men at the other table said earlier.

"I'm gonna fold," we finally announce. This saves us 1,500 chips for something better.


Ouch! The flush card comes -- and that man to our left stole our nuts! When the hand is over, we show what we had. And unlike that other table, these players are more on the gambling side.

"You'd already put 4,000 in there," a man across the table says. (Really it was 3,000.)

"I would have went all-in on that 4,000," another man says.

"That's going to blind you out," the first man points out. Indeed it did; misses with the big and small blinds eliminated us in 13th place. We reached the semifinal table, at least -- barely.

MINISTRY MOMENT: Before the game began, a young man at our table shared a bit of his personal poker philosophy: "I give up, and then I win."

He may have meant it as a joke, but we noted something in those words. "That's pretty deep," we told him. "In fact, it's almost Biblical."

Well, it's really fully Biblical -- but the Bible doesn't use exactly those words. Can you identify the place(s) in Scripture where that idea is expressed? We'll offer an answer in a future post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 100 final tables in 267 nights (37.5%) - 15 cashes. Another slump officially is out, with six missed final tables in a row.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 160 point wins in 725 games (22.1%), 54 final tables, seven cashes.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $56,737, down $1,990. (A week of losses, after a week of huge wins.)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Gathering Around the Table

At our last live poker night, a man told us he was saved and baptized -- then said he was attending a local church.

Admittedly, some people don't think very highly of going to church. Take this discussion we had during an online game earlier this week:

Me: Happy Sunday to all.
IwillLose: you to
imca25: to you as well
VeryMetal: hello
IwillLose: we need to be in church insteed of poker
VeryMetal: Im an Atheist so I will say no on that
stackdaily: who goes to church nowadays
Me: It's OK - I was in church yesterday.
VeryMetal: plus it is 1pm
imca25: we are in poker nascar church
imca25: poker starting and nascar starting
Me: The right church group can be a good thing.

Poker seldom is played as a "team sport" (unless you're part of a local league, like our city has). So independent-minded players might not see any need for a "support group" like a church congregation can offer. But consider these words....

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!... Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. - Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, 12

And these words were written long before Jesus first mentioned the word "church" in the New Testament gospels! Even small church groups can be beneficial if they're built around the love of God and practicing the principles of the Bible.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching. - Hebrews 10:24-25

Perhaps your poker buddies provide moments of encouragement and friendship. If they do, good. But even better is the support which can come from people with a spiritual motive, instead of a selfish one -- building on God's compassion, which is greater than anything humans can produce.

(P.S. Yes, we do go to a church service on Saturdays. If you'd like to know why, do a search of this blog for "Sabbath.")

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The River, or Something Like It

We're covering three points made by a fellow player last Thursday night, when we asked him if he believed in Jesus. "I'm saved. I'm baptized," he answered. What is this "baptism" thing about?

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. - Matthew 28:19

Jesus gave this instruction to His disciples before ascending to heaven. And Jesus set an example for them several years earlier....

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.... As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water.... - Matthew 3:13, 16

Our Lord was baptized in a river -- even though John indicated in verse 14 Jesus didn't need it. Why would John say that? Because something else goes hand-in-hand with baptism:

Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." - Acts 2:38

The Bible indicates repentance is part of the process -- meaning a turn away from sin to a sin-free walk. (This is way the words turn and river in poker have always struck us as fascinating.)

We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. - Romans 6:4

That "new life" isn't always easy -- especially if you're used to a life revolving around poker, with temptations from tobacco and alcohol to heavy gambling. That's why you need the third part of our friend's answer. We'll get to that next.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Poker Night 266: On the Outs

The last week has been big for us in online poker -- huge, in fact. But that happened in "cash games" with play money, which didn't count. Yet we hoped the success somehow would carry over to Lil Kim's Cove tonight. After winning a small early pot, a big test came....

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: Q-J of diamonds

We're ready to quietly limp in, with high suited connectors. But this table has been betting bigger with every round of blinds. A man to our left raises to 400. A man across from us adds another 1,000. With 9,475 chips in our stack (helped by bonuses for soda and arriving on time for the game), we decide to take the risk and call 1,200 more. Four players wind up seeing the flop.

ON THE FLOP: Kc-10s-9s

It's almost a dream flop for us, as we hit a straight! But the big bettor across from this makes a continuation bet of 2,000. We know our hand is best, and we want him to know it.

"Raise," we announce; "2,000 more."

"I'm getting out of the way," another player says as he folds. The big bettor doesn't; he calls and we're heads-up.


Uh-oh -- now three spades are on the board. Our opponent checks. But we really don't think he's betting so big sitting on spades. So we fire a second big barrel, betting 2,000 again.

"I'm all-in," our opponent decides. He tosses out 2,050 more. Now we're wondering a little -- but we don't ponder long, because we're pot-committed either way.

"I'll call," we say. "Do you have the flush?" Thankfully, no! Our foe turns over K-K -- but one of the Kings is a spade. He has three of a kind and several draws, but we still lead.

"He's got a full house," someone at the table says as a card is burned. Not yet he's doesn't....


....but now he does! A pair on the board lets him escape "by boat." We're left with quiet pain -- and a single wimpy chip, worth the minimum 25.

"I had a lot of outs," the man said. "Like maybe half the deck?!" Well, let's see. Nine spades would have earned him a flush. Add possible full houses from three 10's, three 9's, three 5's plus the "case King" for quads -- and the grand total is 19 outs out of 44 unknown cards. That's a 43-percent chance, or a virtual coin flip.

Obviously, that loss was a crippling blow. We had to go all-in for the big blind three hands later, and our K-8 brought a pair of 8's on the river. But a man with a pair of Jacks sent us home -- with a painful sixth place, out of eight at our table.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We took a little packet of salt to the table for a "card protector," and explained to a man on our right how it referred to "the salt of the earth" (Matthew 5:13).

"Do you believe in Jesus? Do you do what he says?" we asked.

"Yeah," he answered. "I'm saved. I'm baptized." Then he added the name of a church he attends.

Let's break down his answer, the way we broke down our bad beat. Are you saved? The Bible tells us....

This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. - I Timothy 2:3-4

How does salvation happen? We need to combine several Bible verses for a complete perspective of the answer.

And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. - Acts 2:21 (see also Romans 10:13)

Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? But some Christian groups make it seem too simple -- as if that's all there is to it. Jesus indicated otherwise:

All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. - Mark 13:13

The King James Version says we must "endure" to the end. That appears to refer to the end of the age -- or the end of our lives, should that come first. Yet we also have these reassuring words....

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith -- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.... - Ephesians 2:8

By the grace of God, He considers us saved now. But we need to stay close to Him, to "make our calling and election sure" (II Peter 1:10). We'll analyze the other parts of our poker buddy's answer in future posts.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 100 final tables in 266 nights (37.6%), 15 cashes.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 159 point wins in 722 games (22.0%), 54 final tables, 7 cashes. UFC 3-card Hold 'em - 2 point wins in 11 games, 1 final table, 1 cash. One-table sit-n-goes - 8-12-7-3-2.

We came close to qualifying for last Sunday night's weekly championship, thanks to a strong showing in a Saturday night game. But second place in a "SNG-gie" didn't provide enough points to put us in.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $58,727, up $7,815.

Whoa - what happened here? Two big "lightning round" drop-ins Sunday did it. Big hands came our way, and we pushed with them to success - making $4,145 in one session. We wound up with gains in eight out of nine sessions.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

It's All In Your Head

The debate rages about whether poker is a game of skill, luck or a mix of both. The "skill" side would point to Phil Hellmuth -- who finished second three times in this year's World Series of Poker, playing three very different formats. How could that possibly be luck? they'd ask.

Perhaps luck is all a concoction of your brain. That's what a one-time network TV news anchor said in a recent interview. Michelle Gielan explained people can see "luck" in all sorts of everyday events -- and if you can spot a trend in lucky events, you can seize on that to your advantage.

Gielan's explanation may seem to some like a bunch of psycho-analytical mumbo-jumbo. But we see a connection to the life of a Christian believer.

Eat you not the bread of him that has an evil eye, neither desire you his dainty meats: For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.... - Proverbs 23:6-7 (KJV)

We've admittedly heard ministers lift the last part of that passage out of its context. Sinful thoughts can lead to sinful actions -- but on the other hand, positive thoughts can bring positive results.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things. - Philippians 4:8

Faithful Christians can be a lot like the people who see "luck" in their day -- except they see the involvement of God in their lives, and they're thankful for His blessings.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. - James 1:17

So what's bouncing around your brain seems to matter -- whether you're approaching a poker table or a session with someone you've never met before. What's on your mind these days?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Remember As You Play....

He who works his land will have abundant food, but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment. - Proverbs 12:11

We're reading the book of Proverbs throughout August, about one chapter a day -- and this verse makes us think of straight draws. How many times have you heard poker players admit, "I'm chasing," especially after they miss a draw?

If you have a 6 and the board shows 5-7-9, you have a "belly-buster" or "gut-shot" straight draw. The odds of an 8 to make your straight is four out of 47, or 8.5 percent.

But if the board shows 5-7-8, your 6 suddenly is more promising. You have an "open-ended" straight draw. The odds of a 4 or 9 appearing becomes eight out of 47, or 17 percent. (A flush draw with one card missing is even better, at 19.1 percent.)

So some draws are better opportunities for success than others. But in all these cases, the odds are against you.

Should this verse in Proverbs lead you to draw away from all draws? We'll leave that answer up to you. But the verse applies to life as well.

It's good to dream -- but think the dreams through carefully before you attempt to pursue them. We had a dream of business success five years ago this summer, only to see it blow up (literally) when we tried to put that dream into action. (Search our other blog for "frisbee" to read details.)

An unknown wise man once said: "Plan your work, then work your plan." That works in all sorts of ways -- from your career to family to poker. And even to developing a strong relationship with God. If your plan for success isn't realistic, seek God's help in having a "Plan B."

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Poker Night 265: Clubs in the Bag

The night started well at Lil Kim's Cove -- as we won a nice pot with two pair and scare-away betting. But then we had a big loss, when Q-10 with two Queens on the board lost to a man with a club flush. That led to a big moment, late in the first hour....

BLINDS: 200/400

IN THE POCKET: 4 of clubs - 4 of diamonds

The big loss combined with a few promising hands which failed have left us with 1,500 chips, out of a starting 8,000. The player ahead of us in the order folds, and we ponder what to do with this small pocket pair. We finally decide there's little to lose.

"I'm all in," we declare. Only two players call, one of them the small blind. So as long as our opponents don't have bigger pairs, we're a slight favorite to "triple up."

ON THE FLOP: 6c-4h-8c

Making three of a kind on the flop is good. Seeing openings for a straight is not. The two players still in the hand check.


Our opponents check again -- and we're feeling better about this.


An innocent-looking card, right? Well, only until the small blind reaches for chips and bets 3,000. The other man calls -- and then we see it.

"Not another flush...." we say showing our 4-4.

"I've got the nuts!" the small blind declares -- and turns over A-7 of clubs! That little card made him a big winner. We're foiled again, finishing sixth at our table of eight.

MINISTRY MOMENT: Another man took the lead in talking at the table -- a man who's been running a poker league in Kentucky, but is moving to our area due to a military transfer. He used his cell phone to show us pictures of winners, talk about the prizes and how he organized things.

Through it all, we listened and learned. We couldn't fit in any words about Christian topics, which didn't make the walk home feel any better for us. But at least we tried to live up to some Biblical advice....

He who answers before listening -- that is his folly and his shame. - Proverbs 18:13

An old non-Biblical proverb notes God made humans with two ears and one mouth. Which part of the body should be utilized more?

When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise. - Proverbs 10:19

From what we could tell, the Kentuckian to our right really wasn't sinning with his words. But listening carefully to those words can build a relationship which will pay dividends down the road. So if God allows, we may get our turn to respond another night.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 100 final tables in 265 nights (37.7%) - 15 cashes. Here we go again: four missed final tables in a row.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 158 point wins in 718 games (22.0%), 54 final tables, 7 cashes.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $50,912, up $706.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Playing for Keepers

The other night we asked a poker player if he was "his brother's keeper" -- and he said no. In the competitive nature of a poker game, that may be true. But what about the rest of life?

Did you recognize where that phrase originated? It's very early in the Bible....

Then the Lord said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?" "I don't know," he replied. "Am I my brother's keeper?" - Genesis 4:9

The Lord God might as well have asked Cain if he'd hit a flush on the river. Cain's answer was nothing short of a dodge -- since in the preceding verse, "Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him." Verses 10-12 indicate the Lord knew the right answer, and punished Cain for his sin.

But what about Cain's (and our) classic question? We think the clearest answer is found in the New Testament....

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. - Galatians 6:1-2

From what we can tell, of course, Abel wasn't sinning when he was killed. But if you're caring about "brothers" in a tough situation, why wouldn't you care about them when times are good?

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching. - Hebrews 10:24-25

If you're not sure what a "brother" really is, check the Bible study we prepared on that several years ago. Then don't be afraid to care for brothers -- no matter where they are, or what their condition.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Poker Night #264: One Step Away

Today marked a birthday for us -- but we know some people who might take offense at birthday ceremonies for religious reasons. So we never brought it up at Lil Kim's Cove tonight. Maybe another player at the table would have shown more mercy on us if we had....

BLINDS: 25/50

IN THE POCKET: K of clubs-Jack of diamonds

It's early, and this hand has high hopes to it. So we limp in, and no one raises at this full table.

ON THE FLOP: 2c-3c-6c

"I've got the Ace," a woman to our left says. But she says a lot of things at the poker table, not all of them accurate. That Ace would look great on the table right now -- but with a flush draw, we check. The table checks.


There's an "action card" for you. And we're ready to act when the table checks to us. We offer a somewhat cautious 300 bet, noting what the woman said and the fact that one big card can top our flush. Our hope is that the table will fold, and most do (including the woman) -- but a man across from us calls.


There's now full house potential on the board, but we don't think that's what our opponent has. We choose to err on the side of caution and bet 600. Our opponent calls again.

"I've got the King," we declare.

"I've got the Ace," he declares. Sure enough -- the one better card is in his hand. We're thankful we played it safe.

After winning a pot with 2-8 of spades (yes, it can happen), that man across from us struck again. When he raised to 1,000 pre-flop, we called with A-J. When the flop was A-3-5 and he bet 5,000 with a promise to go all-in on the turn, we feared he had A-A. But we called anyway with only 1,950 chips left. They were followed by 8-8 -- and again he was one card better than us, showing A-Q. The big push didn't work, and we had a birthday bomb-out finishing seventh at our table.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "You're still my brother, right?" a Euro-American man sitting outside the table asked an African-American man tonight.

"You're my brother, of a different mother," the other man answered. This gave us an opportunity.

"But are you your brother's keeper?" we asked.

"Naaaah," he replied. "Got to let him learn things on his own way."

We brought up a famous Bible passage with our question. Can you name the book where it's located? And do you agree with the man's answer to that question? Offer a comment here; we'll offer ours in a future post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 100 final tables in 264 nights (37.8%) - 15 cashes. Uggh - our percentage keeps dropping like the stock market, again to its lowest level in years.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 158 point wins in 716 games (22.1%), 54 final tables, seven cashes.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $50,206, up $210.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


(We might as well take that headline before a New York tabloid does!)

K stands for King at a poker table -- and that can be good.

K stands for Strikeout in baseball -- and if you're a hitter, that's not good.

Today brought news of a possible "pocket pair." New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez is under investigation for possibly taking part in illegal high-stakes poker games -- including one session with none other than "poker brat" Phil Hellmuth.

Rodriguez's agent denies it happened. But people already are making comparisons to Pete Rose -- so we ask: what if the evidence reveals "A-Rod" did play poker?

Paul Pierce of the Boston Celtics played in World Series of Poker events this summer, before and after the National Basketball Association lockout began. UFC fighters play in online and in-person tournaments on a regular basis. So you tell us -- is it wrong for baseball players to do it? What other thoughts do you have on this story?

For now, we'll offer only one -- really not an original one....

Abstain from all appearance of evil. - I Thessalonians 5:22 (KJV)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

NLOP Weekly Championship 19: Can I Connect?

A busy schedule allows us to play online poker tournaments only on weekends these days. But we scored so well in the July 24 Sunday afternoon game that we qualified for last Sunday night's National League of Poker weekly championship. (Logging in every day and taking surveys for extra points helped.)

So how did it go? Not well at the start, as connection problems caused us to miss the first four minutes. And then....

:05 IN: We have 7-10 in the Big Blind. The flop is 8-9-2, and we call a bet of 30 when an open-ended straight draw. The turn is K, and call another bet of 30. The river is Q, so we missed -- and we fold when another bet comes.

:12 IN: We have 4-3 of hearts, and call a doubled bet with suited connectors. The flop is Ah-9x-6x, and a player pushes all-in. No thanks; we fold.

:16 IN: We have A-6 in the Big Blind -- but the flop is 2-K-Q. When someone offers 140, that's too high; we fold.

:24 IN: We have pocket 3's. The flop is 5-7-A. A player bets 100, and we fold again. (Good thing; he wound up with three Aces.)

:27 IN: We have 6-A. The flop is 6-9-Q, and dare to call a bet/raise to 200 with bottom pair. The turn is 5. Another bet of 100 leads us to fold. (Good thing; someone made top two pair on the flop.)

:28 IN: We have 7-A under the gun with 205 left. We see little choice but to go all-in. The flop is 6-5-2, and the turn is 7. But three of those four cards are hearts, and another player with Jh-9h hits a winning flush.

We left in 30 minutes, finishing 802nd out of 1,432 players. Maybe we need to play online more often?!